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Deepavalli is the Sanskritam for this festival. Many shorten it to the term 'diwali'. It is essentially a five day festival but the culmination is the no-moon night (Amavasya) where as many lights as possible are lit and the celebrating goes long into night. This year that was the 23rd October.
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A Hindu festival rooted in deep human values, Diwali is also associated with strong mythical beliefs and legends. It signifies the true essence of life where good overcomes evil. Celebrated with much gaiety, grandeur and festivity, the festival of Diwali transcends caste, creed and community to become all-inclusive and encompassing. In man's eternal quest for both spiritual enlightenment and worldly prosperity, it marks the most auspicious day when family bonds and human relations become stronger while business ventures gain a promising head start.
As outwardly celebratory as inwardly uplifting, Diwali is celebrated on the 'new moon day' in the month of Kartik which falls in October/ November. As per the Hindu calendar, the day is also termed 'Krishna Chaturdashi'. The boisterous fervor of Diwali is manifested in busy markets much ahead of celebration, illuminated public places and homes lit with earthen 'diyas' , candles and decorative lighting and people decked up in bright, new clothes. Men and women partake of the rituals which involves doing 'pujas' and offering 'prasad' to Gods and Goddesses.
Perhaps as old as a tradition is the ritual of offering sweets and gifts to families and friends. The most common scene synonymous with Diwali is that of children and adults burning firecrackers and sparkles. A noticeable trend is a Diwali party, where friends and family gather to celebrate this day.
As visually mesmerizing is the light that streams out of candles and fireworks, it is ultimately the divine light that we seek to purify our hearts and soul. It is this light that penetrates all darkness and the mundane routine of our lives. As such, the most common ritual is cleaning of homes, offices and work space to connect with this light and get blessings from God.
Symbolizing renewing energy, homecoming and prosperity in different parts of the country, Diwali is believed to coincide with several different events of historical significance. In north India, Diwali marks the day of the return of Lord Rama after defeating Ravana, a symbol of evil and is celebrated with full devotion. Every year, effigies of Ravana are burnt in a public event and the ceremony is attended by thousands of people.
The festival is also associated with Goddess Lakshmi as she emerged from the sea - according to the mythical tale of the 'samudra manthan', meaning 'churning of the ocean'. In Gujarat, Goddess Maha Lakshmi's name is invoked and her blessings sought for prosperity, piety and faith. In another mythical tale, Diwali has associations with Lord Krishna's triumph over the demon Narakasura, who had kidnapped the 'gopis' of Vrindavan. In Bengal, Goddess Kali is worshipped on this day with full-night pujas/chants. From an agrarian point-of-view, Diwali also heralds the onset of the sowing season.
In the calendar of religious festivals in India, Diwali stands as one of the most prominent festivals. Above all, its main significance reverberates with our aspirations to be pure and loving in our interactions with others and to rise above selfish interests.